Many a false step was made by standing still.
Named must your fear be before banish it you can.
-Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
Twenty feet and closing.
“Run! Ruuuuuuuuuun!” Hans didn’t speak Portuguese, but the meaning was clear enough—haul ass. His sneakers gripped firmly on the jagged rock, and he drove his chest forward towards 3,000 feet of nothing.
He held his breath on the final step, and the panic drove him to near unconsciousness. His vision blurred at the edges, closing to a single pin point of light, and then… he floated. The all-consuming celestial blue of the horizon hit his visual field an instant after he realized that the thermal updraft had caught him and the wings of the paraglider. Fear was behind him on the mountain top, and thousands of feet above the resplendent green rain forest and pristine white beaches of Copacabana, Hans Keeling had seen the light.
That was Sunday.
On Monday, Hans returned to his law office in Century City, Los Angeles’ posh corporate haven, and promptly handed in his three-week notice…
For nearly five years, he had faced his alarm clock with the same dread: I have to do this for another 40-45 years? He had once slept under his desk at the office after a punishing half-done project, only to wake up and continue on it the next morning. That same morning, he had made himself a promise: two more times and I’m out of here. Strike number three came the day before he left for his Brazilian vacation.
We all make these promises to ourselves, and Hans had done it before as well, but things were now somehow different. He was different. He had realized something while arcing in slow circles towards the earth—risks weren’t that scary once you took them. His colleagues told him what he expected to hear: he was throwing it all away. He was an attorney on his way to the top—what the hell did he want?
Hans didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but he had tasted it. On the other hand, he did know what bored him to tears, and he was done with it. No more passing days as the living dead, no more dinners where his colleagues compared cars, riding on the sugar high of a new BMW purchase until someone bought a more expensive Mercedes. It was over.
Immediately, a strange shift began—Hans felt, for the first time in a long time, at peace with himself and what he was doing. He had always been terrified of plane turbulence, as if he might die with the best inside of him, but now he could fly through a violent storm sleeping like a baby. Strange indeed.
More than a year later, he was still getting unsolicited job offers from law firms but by then had started Nexus Surf, a premier surf-adventure company based in the tropical paradise of Florianopolis, Brazil. He had met his dream girl, a Carioca with caramel-colored skin named Tatiana [bottom right here], and spent most of his time relaxing under palm trees or treating clients to the best times of their lives.
Is this what he had been so afraid of?
These days, he often sees his former self in the under-joyed and overworked professionals he takes out on the waves. Waiting for the swell, the true emotions come out: “God, I wish I could do what you do.” His reply is always the same: “You can.”
The setting sun reflects off the surface of the water, providing a zen-like setting for a message he knows is true: it’s not giving up to put your current path on indefinite pause. He could pick up his law career exactly where he left off if he wanted to, but that is the furthest thing from his mind.
As they paddle back to shore after an awesome session, his clients get a hold of themselves and regain their composure. They set foot on shore, and reality sinks its fangs in: “I would, but I can’t really throw it all away.”
He has to laugh.
Excerpted from The 4-Hour Workweek, Chapter 3: Dodging Bullets – Fear-setting and Escaping Paralysis
Posted on: November 10, 2008.